Fewer Jail Inmates: More Mental Health Services

Lindsay Wallace, executive director of NAMI-Dane County, adds a cost-effective and humane approach to the debate about the Dane County Jail.  Here are the opening paragraphs from her opinion piece in the Wisconsin State Journal.

“Dane County doesn’t need a larger jail. It needs greater investment in community-based mental health treatment. It needs supported employment, affordable housing and preventive services to help keep people with mental illnesses from being incarcerated.

While the National Alliance on Mental Illness in Dane County agrees the current jail needs an upgrade to make it safer and more humane for inmates and staff, we strongly disagree on the need to plan for as many inmates with mental illnesses in the jail as our system now incarcerates.

The county would better serve nonviolent offenders with mental illnesses by reducing the jail population instead of expanding its capacity, as outlined in the Mead & Hunt jail update study.

We know that with a smaller jail population comes a smaller jail, which saves money in construction and staffing. This savings in other cities has paid for community-based alternatives to keep nonviolent offenders with mental illnesses from being jailed as our automatic response to infractions.

Further, approving expansion of jail capacity shows increased reliance on the jail to provide treatment to persons with mental illnesses. This is counter-productive because these settings often exacerbate psychiatric symptoms. It is fiscally irresponsible.

A more responsible and humane strategy is to invest more in crisis intervention training for law enforcement and corrections officers, mobile crisis response teams, community-based mental health treatment programs, and mental health jail courts. These measures are more cost-effective and have been shown to reduce arrests, jail days and hospital stays.”    Click here to read the full statement.

 

 

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